Reading erotica in public is amusing, distracting and eventually awkward. I would know because I was sitting cross legged (so my style) in a coffee shop packed to its capacity, researching this piece, and hungrily looking for Indian erotica websites, which you should know and probably already know are non-existent. Erotica in India is like a badly made salad of sleaze, porn, bhabis and aunties. And that seems to be the modern Indian version of erotica. Anyway, the initial confidence of appearing uber cool with numerous erotica websites opened on my gigantic MAC screen soon gave way to utter embarrassment. I knew I had to stop this little game of mine. I had failed the self-imposed task of reading erotica in public, but while I hastily closed tabs after tabs of my browser, I wondered if people even read erotica in the age of streaming platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, where nudity and sex are available for super-quick and hassle-free consumption. Surprise, surprise, we actually do read erotica and as Juggernaut, one of India’s leading publishing house, confirms men aged between 18 and 30 are the highest consumers of erotica. Interestingly, men were also the highest respondents to our poll question on whether it was okay to read erotica in public. But when we wanted answers to our rather pointed questions, its women and not men who came forward to give us the low-down. Here are some accounts from across the country on how comfortable they are reading erotica in public.
Sreemoyee Piu Kundu, Author and Columnist on gender and sexuality, Delhi
In India, erotica in its truest sense doesn’t exist as a literary genre that is nurtured by publishers or respected by authors. After I wrote Sita’s Curse, I was labeled the Queen of Erotica, though the book remains my only full fledged feminist erotica novel. However, considering the book still is high on the top grossing best-seller list, I accept the epithet most graciously. But that was the destiny of the book, and I as the writer a medium, perhaps. I read erotica in the car, on the flight, at home, and I don’t think there is anything wrong with it, because it’s not like I am getting an orgasm in full public view or something. In India, people confuse erotica with porn. The two are very different. Feminist erotica that I write on is about women’s empowerment, owning one’s physical desire and the practice of sensuality. The real magic happens in the mind and not between one’s legs. For the same reason, I don’t consider Fifty Shades of Grey as erotica because its innately sexist and disrespectful to women. I couldn’t go beyond the first two pages. We have a strong and rich tradition of indigenous erotica writing, my favorites being Tamil poet Andal, Kalidasa, Ismat Chugtai and Kamala Das. Sadly, writing on sex is often sold as erotica with even Sunny Leone jumping onto the bandwagon – sex sells, and with books not selling, it’s easy to peddle badly written, clumsy sex scenes marketed as erotica, the way the Netflix film Lust Stories was a damp squib!
Ankita Karmarkar, 22 years, Student, Kolkata
I am personally a fan of reading and erotica, for sure(no puns intended). But reading erotica in public is still something I am not very confident about. Being a proud member of LGBTQ+ community, when I was starting to discover more about myself, my personal research instrument was BOOKS! I was reading this book called ‘Fingersmith‘, it’s a fabulous book, but as the name suggests, it is something very sexually represented. So this aunty comes up to me in a crowded metro and asks me not to read it further as girls of good homes are not supposed to read something bold.
(Picture credit: Virago Press)
After that experience I still haven’t been able to read literal erotica in absolutely crowded places, but being a rebel at heart, I definitely sneak in short erotics. I believe everyone should read and that everyone should be proud and loud of they are reading because books are a form of information if you really see it; it feeds your soul. Whether, erotica or any other genre.
(Picture credit: For Books Sake)
Chetana Divya Vasudev, 27 years, Assistant Editor, Bangalore
The only erotica I’ve read is Mills & Boon. Honestly, I don’t ever remember reading it in a public space. That said, there’s no reason why I’d have any problem doing so. First off, I read a lot while I’m commuting, and whatever I’m reading at that point, I carry with me to read on the bus, cab or metro. And I’ve seen my mother reading them from when I was a child, and my aunt often got me the Mills & Boon that I read. So there was absolutely no stigma attached to it as far as I was concerned, even at an age when I was awkward about a lot of things. I’m over my Mills & Boon phase now. I rarely flaunt my books, but I’ve never, so far, been ashamed of what I’m reading, at least while I’m reading it.
Interestingly, when Interviewing India reached out to several men for their narratives, none of them responded positively. If women were our only respondents to our call for narratives, then it’s not too different at Juggernaut as well where most of the writers for erotica are women and not men. Is it safe to assume that the fairer sex is far more articulate and vocal in expressing matters related to sexuality than the men folk? Possibly. But don’t let this notion deceive you because statistics at Juggernaut show that men outsize women when it comes to consuming these expressions of sexuality. Wedding night, confessions, first time, and same sex encounters is where reader interests lie, and these readers keep coming back for more and more on a weekly basis. Men in the Interviewing India poll question also were of the opinion that reading erotica in public was completely acceptable. But whether we Indians actually do consume erotica in the truest sense, well that is highly questionable.